Akanni McDowall easily brushed off a challenge for the presidency of the country’s largest public sector trade union, crushing his challenger in a landslide by a two to one margin.
In internal elections Wednesday after a bitter and acrimonious campaign for the leadership of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), McDowall defeated the union’s Deputy General-Treasurer Roy Greenidge by 1,053 votes to 556, in one of the biggest turnouts for the union’s election, with 20 per cent of members casting their ballots, doubling the number who voted two years ago.
Jubilant supporters held the re-elected president aloft after the results were announced.
Even as he celebrated his emphatic win, the union leader wasted little time getting down to business, telling those gathered at the NUPW headquarters at Dalkeith, St Michael that the first order of business would be to secure a pay rise for public workers.
“Going forward, what we will ask for, as an institution and as a union is a salary increase for public servants. Job number one, job number two and job number three is a salary increase for public servants. We also have to make sure public servants are appointed, and that is something we will work on immediately. We have our job cut out for us, but it is not beyond us,” he assured.
In the two years that he served as president, the 36-year-old McDowall came in for widespread criticism from members and sympathizers of the Freundel Stuart administration who objected to his aggressive approach towards Government and his participation in Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) protest marches, including the recent “March of Disgust”.
Many labelled him an agent of the BLP, and in the lead-up to the poll, Minister of Education Ronald Jones also described his six-member team as Team BLP.
With his victory secured, the retained union president addressed the issue in his acceptance speech, insisting the union was a political institution, with both major political parties, the BLP and the governing Democratic Labour Party (DLP) enjoying the support of its members.
However, he said political affiliation would not determine how the new leadership would represent workers.
“When we go forward tomorrow, we represent people who are members of the Barbados Labour Party and who are members of the Democratic Labour Party and whoever else party . . . and the undecided party. We represent workers. Workers in this country are struggling. They are under attack and they need representation, and with this new team that we have here, we will represent workers in this country to the best of our ability,” the union boss declared.
McDowall’s team came within three votes of a clean sweep, with only newcomer Jane Albert-Hall losing the race for third vice president, securing 609 votes to 611 by Charles Bostic. A recount has been demanded and is expected to take place on Thursday.
The remainder of McDowall’s team won, most of them handsomely – Fabian Jones defeated Margo Bannister by 902 to 598 for the post of first vice president; Asokore Beckles was reelected general treasurer, knocking out Horace Deane by 938 vote to 574; Kim Webster was elected second vice president over Kimberley Agard by 791 votes to 689; and Corey Marshall triumphed in the battle for deputy general treasurer with 862 votes, as against 600 for Michelle Brathwaite and 236 for David Denny.
“Brothers and sisters, we are a family. We are brothers and we are sisters. It’s OK to disagree with each other, but what we shouldn’t do is disrespect each other . . . because this is a union and the very definition of the word means togetherness. Brothers and sisters let’s come together, let us thank the [winning] team . . . [and] the opposing team for running in this election. I think it takes great courage and commitment to try to represent the workers of this country and for that it must be commended,” McDowall said.
The vote was not without its share of controversy, with the incumbent complaining earlier of political interference, vote buying and obstruction.
“This type of behaviour is unheard of for a union who is supposed to be together. Never in the 15 years that I have been a union member have I heard of such behaviour and it is deeply troubling,” he told Barbados TODAY midway through polling day.
General Secretary Roslyn Smith said the allegations were serious, but she needed the facts before addressing them.
“There were a number of concerns that were raised and until I can get the true facts, then I can make a statement. I am still awaiting the names of those supervisors that had denied the staff from voting. And the issue with the vote buying, we have something, but we have to be very careful when you make those kinds of accusations without facts to back them up. As a responsible union, you know I would not go down that road, until I have the real facts,” Smith emphasized.
Meantime, Greenidge refused to speak with reporters, claiming he had been treated unfairly by the media leading up to the election.
The DLP also dismissed claims that it had interfered in the process, with General Secretary George Pilgrim saying the accusations were simply not true.